Fritz Haber and the Double-edged Sword of Synthetic Nitrogen II

Lead: In the early 20th century German chemist Fritz Haber developed the process leading to the creation of synthetic nitrogen. His brilliant innovation, however, is very much a double-edged sword.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After his initial breakthrough for which he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918, Haber was made the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin. With the outbreak of World War I, he led in the development of poison gas. His motives appear to be mixed, partly emerging out of intense German patriotism, but also in hopes that the use of gas would hasten the end of the bloodletting. He returned home greatly disappointed in the war’s result, but also conflicted over his own role in the use of chemical weapons. Haber’s wife committed suicide shortly thereafter, it is said partly in revulsion over her husband’s complicity in the wartime carnage. After the Nazi takeover in 1933, as an ethnic Jew, he saw that even his long-time loyal service to Germany would not protect him against the coming barbarity and accepted a post in Cambridge, England. He died in obscurity in 1934.

 

Fritz Haber and the Double-Edged Sword of Synthetic Nitrogen I

Lead: By 1900 world population was beginning to outstrip agricultural capacity. Farmers could not grow enough to feed the people. Then Fritz Haber solved the nitrogen problem.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The three main nutrients required for successfully growing plants are potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Good top soil contains them in sufficient amounts to grow crops, but after long use, soil becomes depleted of these ingredients and must be renewed. Potassium and phosphorus are economically available in sufficient quantities to be put back easily, but nitrogen is not. Nitrogen is in the air. It is a gas that is a large part of the atmosphere. Getting it into the soil for plant synthesis is very difficult. Traditional farmers added plant clippings and animal waste, rotated crops or planted legumes such as beans or lintels, so-called green manure, to restore the soil and increase yields. Traditional agriculture could not keep up with an exploding world population. Farmers were losing the battle.

 

The Dreyfus Affair IV

Lead: Imprisoned for treason he did not commit, French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus became the focus of a great national crusade.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Dreyfus was clearly innocent. His 1894 conviction was fixed by military authorities anxious to protect the Army from the embarrassing discovery of a German spy in the War Ministry, but they got the wrong man. While Dreyfus served his sentence on Devil's Island, the infamous French prison colony off the coast of South America, his family and a growing number of supporters worked to prove his innocence. Among the most prominent of the Dreyfusards were George Clémenceau, the future wartime Premier, and the novelist and left wing agitator, Emile Zola.

 

 

 

The Dreyfus Affair III

Lead: Accused of spying for the Germans in 1894, French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus became the subject of a furious cultural struggle.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the last half of the 1900s France was a study in conflict. Little more than half the population even spoke the French language. Rural areas were suspicious of the more prosperous industrial cities. Railroads which would help bring the country together were delayed until late in the century. Many Frenchmen openly advocated a return to monarchy and deeply resented the so-called Third Republic, set up after the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Leading the call for monarchy were many Roman Catholics who felt threatened by republican attacks on Catholic schools.

 

 

 

The Dreyfus Affair II

Lead: The year was 1894 and a German spy was known to be at work in the French Ministry of War. Investigators accused Captain Alfred Dreyfus who became a target in great measure because he was a Jew.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Anti-Semitism has rumbled just beneath the surface of western culture since the twilight of the Christian era. Occasionally engaged in open persecution, anti-Semites considered Jews to be clannish and their religious practices more than a little subversive. Many Jews were involved in the professions of law, medicine, and when permitted, occupied key positions in national service. Because the Roman Catholic Church prohibited the charging of interest, Jews, not burdened by such regulations, gravitated toward finance, money-lending, and commerce. An added advantage of these occupations was that, in times of persecution, Jewish assets were portable. Cash crosses borders.

 

 

 

The Dreyfus Affair I

Lead: In the 1890s the trial and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus exposed the great divisions in France and in European society as a whole.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In 1870, the military powerhouse of northern Europe, Prussia, crushed the forces of French emperor, Napoleon III, in a swift military campaign. France was unprepared for the much more modern Prussian technology and tactics and was overwhelmed. The war brought important changes in both countries. The old Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck used the war emergency to force reluctant parts of Germany into a single German empire led by the Prussian King who was then crowned Kaiser William I at Versailles just outside of Paris in January 1871. Bismarck understood the value of the gratuitous insult. Nothing could be more humiliating to the French than to have the new German emperor crowned in the palace of France's greatest King Louis XIV.

 

 

 

Gutenberg Press II

Lead: In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg began the first book printed in the western world using moveable metal type. Those copies of the Gutenberg Bible that have survived are among the most valued artifacts in the world.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After spending almost two decades in Strasbourg, working secretly on a new type of printing press, Johannes Gutenberg returned to his hometown of Mainz and formed a partnership so as to exploit his revolutionary invention - movable metal type. There is evidence that movable type had been used in China for thousands of years and even in Europe before Gutenberg’s invention, but the process used fashioned letters from clay or porcelain or wood. They would break, splinter or wear down after a few uses. Gutenberg spent years solving the problem of deterioration. Blocks, each one bearing a precise metallic raised letter on its face were held together tightly in a wooden form, ink was rolled over the raised letters, then the form was pressed against paper. Because the letters were metallic they were extremely durable, could be used over and over again and reformatted to make different words and sentences.

 

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Eugenics II

Lead: From its start as an optimistic approach to improving the human condition, eugenics degenerated into a racist tool in the hands of bigotry and ultimately led to the gas ovens of the Third Reich.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The fundamental problem with eugenics, even as Sir Francis Galton articulated it in the 19th century, was that it focused primarily on inborn characteristics and almost completely disregarded social, environmental, educational, and physical factors when examining the human race. Basically, eugenicists advocated a form of genetic determinism. A person is born with a genetic imprint that determines the course of their lives. Not surprisingly these theories became a powerful tool in the hands of racists. It all depends on who is setting the standard. If society is to improve itself, it is said, it must eliminate genetic threats to racial purity. In the sad history of eugenics, a wide variety of groups have been singled out for social restriction, sterilization, or elimination. Feeble-minded or mentally ill people, habitual criminals, sexual libertines, Negroes, Native Americans or any non-whites, Jews, gypsies, and evangelical Christians have all fallen under the wary and sometimes fatal scrutiny of the eugenic mandate. They bore undesirable human traits.